Couples descended the town hall steps to cheering crowds and cries of "Kiss, kiss, kiss." On this historic day, many obliged.
Gay marriage may be the subject of pitched legal battles across the nation, but Monday in "P-town," a fishing village and popular gay destination on Cape Cod, it's a small-town victory.
Even the out-of-staters drawn here by the town's refusal to enforce residency requirements for couples seeking marriage licenses get a warm welcome. Some of the several hundred residents lining the streets and sidewalks offer complimentary roses to participants in the first day of legal same-sex marriages in US history.
From this sea side community, to Boston's imposing city hall and a spired stone building in the state's Connecticut River Valley, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples from across the state and nation thronged the Bay State's municipal buildings and churches.
For the most part, cheering crowds of friends and family overwhelmed pockets of protesters, who saw their last hope of preventing the marriages fail last week when federal courts turned down last-minute appeals.
The world was watching, too, as Massachusetts joined Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada's three most populous provinces as the only places in the world where gays can marry.
Yet perhaps nowhere was the emotion and elation of this day experienced more keenly than here, a small place that, as a de facto capital of gay America, has for decades felt the lows and highs of the gay-rights movement.
But most locals say this isn't a big change for P-town: It's an affirmation of what it has symbolized for a long time.
"Of course we're proud, but Provincetown's always been full of artistic people, creative people, diverse people, and gay people have always come here and felt accepted," says Mary DeRocco, who's been selling commitment rings to gay couples at Ruby's Provincetown Fine Jewelry for 18 years. Today, she says, "It's like the rest of the world has finally caught up to us."
The historic events began at midnight, as the Cambridge City Hall awarded licenses to 260 couples, including the first-in-line Susan Shepherd and Marcia Hams. Thousands crowded the streets of this liberal and intellectual bastion, throwing rice as the couples exited with their paperwork.
About a half dozen protesters from Kansas were the most vocal protestors. Gov. Mitt Romney (R) had lobbied against legalizing gay marriage, and had evoked a 1913 law requiring those getting licenses to show proof of residency.
But opponents saw their final effort to prevent the marriages fail last week, after the Supreme Court declined the case.
Nationwide opposition to gay marriage appears to be waning, according to a new Gallup Poll. A study done in early May shows 42 percent of Americans approve of gay marriage, up from 31 percent in mid-December.
Chris McCary and John Sullivan, the first on the damp steps of Provincetown's town hall., came from Anniston, Ala., and drove through the night for their place in line. Chris, a divorce attorney, said it was important to them to make their union of six years legally binding.
The next to arrive, the Rev. Lynette Curley-Roam and her soon-to-be wife Ellen Curley-Roam, drove from Long Island, where she devotes her Independent Catholic ministry to the needs of gays and lesbians. Though the pair had a civil union a year and a half ago, they decided they couldn't miss the real thing. Marrying so many others over the years, Ms. Curley-Roam says, has sharpened her desire to make those promises herself.
But the desperate attentions of TV crews left her feeling a little cold. "All these cameras - I wish we could do it without all this hoopla," she says. "But then again, we are at the forefront of the civil rights movement; that's what it's all about."
At least some locals don't mind the attention. "It's a little bit of an overwhelm for a small New England fishing village, but anytime somebody stops you and says 'Hi, I'm so and so from NBC or CBS or Fox,' it's kind of fun," says Patricia Fitzpatrick, the town's director of tourism. Besides, she says, an anticipated boom in the number of couples honeymooning at the gay-friendly resort will do wonders for the local economy. "We're becoming literally a gay Niagara Falls," she says.
There were similar theatrics at Boston's City Hall, where about 50 couples were standing in line by 9 a.m. People handed out flowers and candy along the L-shaped line leading into the imposing stone building.
Many couples said they chose to get their license Monday because of the historical significance. Others said they were motivated by a sense of apprehension.
"We could have done it later in the week, but with the governor working against us, we did not want to take any chances," says Stephen Kyle of Boston. "We wanted to make sure we were legally married before anyone can stop us."
While about a dozen protesters from the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, D.C. kneeled in prayer, opposition to the event was subdued.
The same was true in Northampton in the Connecticut River Valley, where 50 couples - about 40 of them female - waited amid cheering crowds.
One resident wore a T-shirt reading "Straight But Pro-Gay Marriage." Another group of women and children held signs that read "Love Does Not Discriminate" and "Equality At Last."
On a park-side bench in Provincetown, partners Mary Kay Burgan and Ivy Frances of Scituate, Mass., had a front-row view of the celebrations. Though not marrying Monday, the couple appreciated being here.
"This is the enlightenment of the rest of society happening on those steps," says Ms. Frances.
• John Nordell and Elizabeth Armstrong contributed to this report.